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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reflections on watching Brazil with Brazilians

Posted by on Thu, Jun 24, 2010 at 12:06 PM

Ivory Coasts Emmanuel Eboue takes down Brazils Kaká.
  • Andy Mead/ YCJ
  • Ivory Coast's Emmanuel Eboue takes down Brazil's Kaká.
RIO DE JANEIRO—The Rio de Janeiro FIFA Fan Fest (FFF) is a textbook example of how space can be manipulated to create and reproduce socio-economic hierarchies, cultural value systems and accelerate patterns of consumption. Watching Brazil versus Ivory Coast there on Sunday afternoon was a strangely unemotional experience in a country and city that prides itself on stopping everything for the national team.

The streets surrounding the FFF in Copacabana were full of yellow clad fans heading in all directions. Since it was Sunday afternoon, the Avenida Atl├óntica was closed to cars. On the sidewalks where there would have normally been camelôs (vendors) selling hats and shirts and beer and food, there were cops making sure that no commerce outside the realm of FIFA was occurring. The sterilization of the area surrounding the FFF was stunning. That public employees were directed to liberate public space for AmBev to sell beer at twice the price of informal vendors made me thirsty.

The line into the FFF was long. Hundreds of security guards regulated the waves of fans who passed through the various checkpoints. No one was concerned about the rules that prohibit the wearing of bathing suits into the FFF. However, inside the FFF, there were no musical instruments, no drums, no vuvuzelas (thank God). It would have been difficult to hear the crowd above the pounding bass of the booty beats coming from the gigantic stage. As the FFF filled, people passed out on the sand, hundreds lined up to get their beers and dancing started to take over the crowd. There was a definitive party atmosphere, ripe with anticipation. There were no songs about the national team, no syncopated “Brasil, Brasil, Brasil” chants, just people at a stage on the beach, dancing about with the people they came with.

The journalists were able to hang out in the shade of some palm trees in relative comfort, while the majority of the crowd baked in the afternoon sun. The VIPs in the Coca-Cola and Itaú boxes danced with the pretty lads that were there to lead them though some dance steps. In the Hyundai tent, young couples circulated around the cars. Two hundred people waited in line to get the Sony 3D experience. On the sand in front of the stage, people danced until the party was interrupted to watch a video game simulation (FIFA 2010, of course) of the Brazil versus Ivory Coast game, replete with live commentary. This is the spectacularization of the banal.

Thirsty, I went to get some beer and was shocked to see that it came out of a can and into a plastic cup. There were 18,000 people in the FFF. That’s a lot of cans. The maxim of the mega-event seems to be “maximize consumption.” I went back for more just to be sure. New can, new cup. Delicious.

I have catalogued for some time why I am not a fan of the Seleção Brasileira. I can’t take the smug satisfaction, the religious proselytizing mixed with crass commercialism, the corruption of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), the sense that willing the World Cup is an inalienable Brazilian right combined with a kind of dispassionate consumption of the spectacle.

Then there’s Kaká, Dunga, Robinho, Lúcio, Luis Fabiano and Dani Alves with their pinched expressions, their petulant characters, their mercenary attitudes, their futebol de resultados, their crass commercialism.

Brazil is not playing well. Kaká is putting in especially poor performances. The first five times the unholy warrior touched the ball, he lost it. In the sixth minute, he was dispossessed twice. It happened again in the 11th, 14th and 21st minutes.

The game was ugly, not at all helped by Ivory Coast’s lack of interest in football and Drogba’s total lack of movement. I watched the game with my dad, who knows a thing or two about football, and he commented, “It’s like watching an MLS game.” Ouch. The crowd was quiet. No songs, no noise, no chants, nothing.

When Ivory Coast missed a key tackle and the ball popped up at Kaká’s feet, he slotted through from Luis Fabiano who could barely miss. 1-0. The goal came out of nothing, a mistake, a fortunate bounce. The crowd exploded, someone threw beer all over me and then nothing happened until half time, when nothing much more happened. A terrible half of football in a crowd of 17,000 atomized individuals.

Luis Fabiano’s second goal was as unbelievable as it was illegal. The short clip of the French referee running back to midfield with Fabiano, asking if it was a handball, laughing and then patting his FIFA badge, launched a thousand conspiracy theories in my mind: There is much talk about Ricardo Teixeira, the president of the CBF, running against Blatter for the FIFA presidency next time around. Could it be that FIFA is giving a few presents to the Brazilians? Could it be that Ivory Coast was paid to let Brazil walk over them? How can two handballs in two seconds be missed by two referees? Why was there laughter in missing the call? With Brazil playing so poorly, has FIFA agreed to let them through to the next round?

If the second goal came out of nothing, the third goal made me think that the fix really was in. The Ivorian right back allowed Kaká to get to the line easily, when even slight pressure on his holiness would have complicated the cross. Elano flew into the middle of the box unmarked, 3-0. The goal came out of weak defending as much as attacking buildup and put the game out of reach. Where was the Ivory Coast team that took the game to Portugal? Why was Drogba so sleepy?

The Ivorian reaction to their 3-0 deficit (perhaps annoyed that their federation had sold the game?) was to start kicking the snot out of everyone and everything (and the Brazilians under Dunga are just as likely to do the same thing under similar circumstances).

Dunga should be blamed as much as Kaká for the latter’s sending off. Knowing that the key player to Brazilian success in the tournament is injured and off-form, why not take him off with a 3-0 lead? Kaká got involved in some scuffles, drew a yellow, and then threw an elbow - a well deserved explusion.
From there Dunga blew a gasket, screaming ladrão, ladrão (thief, thief) at the French referee. In the post-match press conference, Dunga tore into some journalists calling them “pieces of shit” among other niceties. FIFA decided not to take action against him.

Kaká, roundly criticized for his petulance, had a go at the son of the polemical journalist Juca Kufuri. Kaká claimed he was the target of journalistic persecution because he is a follower of Jesus Christ. Kaká, persecuted? Jaysus Christ! Every time someone clicks on the FIFA website to watch game highlights (which are all exactly 2:12 long, somehow), they see Kaká shooting a ball at some ostensibly African goal. I feel persecuted by Kaká! This guy is THE face of FIFA and he’s bitching about being persecuted? Fala serio.

I think Kaká’s sending-off was intentional so he could rest his injured groin before the second round.

Brazil only played about 10 minutes of football against Ivory Coast, finally getting into a rhythm that resembled Brazil in the 32nd minute of the second half. The defense lost concentration late, allowing Drogba to do something other than walk around carrying his limp arm.

Watching a game with thousands of Brazilians is not particularly exciting. The Brazilians admit this. There is only one song with one line, repeated halfheartedly. With so much of the national consciousness wrapped up in the national team, I was expecting more.

I have been asked innumerable times if I have ever spent a World Cup in Brazil, a negative answer followed by quick guarantee that there is nothing like it. After watching Brazil versus Ivory Coast, I’m pretty sure there is.

Chris Gaffney is a visiting professor in the School of Architecture and Urbanism at the Universidade Federal Fluminense. His research and teaching focus on the urban and social impacts of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. His recent book,
Temples of the Earthbound Gods, explores the history, geography and culture of stadiums in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. This essay originally appeared on his personal blog, Geostadia.

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